Category Archives: Translation

Language, Feelings, and the Construal of Insects: Differences between French and English

Papillon

Image via Wikipedia

Since childhood I have thought that butterflies were good insects and that moths were bad insects.  After all, popular thought is that moths are creatures of destruction (hence the need for mothballs), even though this is not exactly the case.  Nevertheless, the frame for conceptualizing moths is a negative frame in English.

Contrast the English perspective with the French construal: butterfly is papillon, moth is papillon de nuit, or, night’s butterfly.  The negative construal is minimized by the fact that they are construed as being of a similar type.  In French, moth can be seen as a lexical subcategory of butterfly.

This is interesting because it shows how a folk-classification system affects the construal; from a cladistic standpoint Lepidoptera cannot be broken into a subgroup that distinguishes between moth and butterfly because moths and butterflies belong to the same monophyletic group with butterflies belonging to moths, and not the other way around as English speakers might hope.  By using a similar form for both creatures French is closer to the phylogenetic reality in its classification schema, but it would be closer if moth was papillon and butterfly were papillon de jour since the basic level papillon would then reflect the moth as the basic level creature.

The way we talk about something governs how we think about it.  French children probably have less disgust for moths than I did, simply because poetically a moth is a butterfly of the night, and not a creature of destruction.

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Learn to Speak Czech via Twitter…amazing!

So, I came across Dominik Lukes’ truly amazing and novel use of Twitter – he teaches you to speak a language one tweet a day [http://twitter.com/#!/Czechly]…it has an accompanying blog [http://czechly.com/] and is truly impressive.  Follow him right now: http://twitter.com/czechly

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Your Language Constrains How You Can Think & Speak

When a specialist tries to talk about their specialist view of the world with a non-specialist it rarely ever goes smoothly.  In fact, usually, the specialist either talks at too specific a level for the non-specialist to comprehend, let alone understand, or the specialist talks at too general a level to do the subject any justice.

The same thing happens whenever you take any two people who belong to two different generations, disciplines, or subculture.  In fact, this same type of miscommunication happens whenever you take two very similar people and try to get them to relate, there are gross miscalculations in the process of decoding each other’s meaning. Continue reading

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Una chiste para ti….

Pollitos de colores!!

Image by YoSeLiN via Flickr

Una dia el pollito va a la casa blanca y toca la puerta

hay una persona abre la puerta y dice: “¿que queirres?”

y el pollito respondon, “necesito hablar con el presidente por favor”

y la persona que abre la puerta dice “el presidente no esta aqui, seran en Ohio”

y el pollito respondon “¿esta enojado? ¿con migo?”


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Post-Colonial Thought in Literature, Ethics, and Project Design

I wanted to let you know about an online ejournal about Post-Colonial Literature and Culture, here it is:

Post-Colonial Studies in Literature & Culture eJournal

Having formerly worked in two former colonies (one in Africa and the other in the South Pacific), and having lived in Hawai’i which was also colonized, I am interested pragmatically in the ideas of Post-Colonialism.

While I am on the topic, I want to address post-colonial thought not only in literature, but also in project design for development and similar enterprises.

Furthermore, I am interested in how this model informs the ethics of project design and local ownership in situations of development.

I think it is great that development has gained currency with non-development workers, but I don’t want to see industries like micro-finance become another tool of Colonialism for the lay-person.  Avoiding a ‘savior complex’ is part of ensuring the stability of a project in a post-colonial context.

More to come….

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A blog about New Testament Greek Discourse

I came across this great post today while I was searching for people who have cited Stephen Wallace’s work on Figure-Ground organization.  It is a blog that looks at New Testament Greek Discourse.  It looks like he might have slight cognitive leanings…I’m going to check it out further but I thought I would pass it on for now.  Check it out.

how to talk about linguistics with non-linguists

As a specialist you have a level of contextual understanding for realms of knowledge contained in words for which non-specialists also have normal everyday uses.

Consider words like: “context”, “ungrammatical”, “attention”, and “construe”…these words mean entirely different things to a non-linguist than they do to a linguist (let alone the differences between a cognitive linguist and a generative linguist).

Using these types of words with non-linguists as if they understood the linguistic sense of the word will not work; you will have failed communication. Continue reading

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A Brief Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis Summary…

A reasonable summary of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in its tractable form is that different cultures interpret the same world differently and this has an impact on how they both think and construct meaning in language; in fact, language shapes or influences thought to some degree.  The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis combines linguistic relativity and linguistic determinism.  Adherents of the hypothesis follow these two principles to varying degrees producing gradient interpretations from weak to strong versions of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.  Cognitive linguists are among the only linguists to take this “mentalist” position seriously, and most linguists of any orientation reject a strong version of the hypothesis.  Continue reading

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Grammaticalization via Metaphoric Extension in Tok Pisin

Stomach diagram in Inkscape.

Image via Wikipedia

Grammaticalization is a process whereby items in a language change to move (usually) from an open class to a closed class. There are three main types of grammaticalization: 1) metaphorical extension, 2) invited inferencing, and 3) subjectification.

I think that Melanesian Pidgin (Tok Pisin) uses  a metaphoric extension system to grammaticalize certain lexical items (I think these are instances of renewal where a content word takes on a grammatical use).  Several of these terms derive from body part metaphors that align with axiality or cardinality.

Bel

[Mind, soul, heart or internal state.  Literally, “stomach” or “belly”]

Bel bilong me kamap hat, or, belhat

[Anger, literally, “my stomach has become hot”, or “my stomach is hot”]

Asples

[Your home village, where you originate from – literally, your “ass place” locative for the place where your ass belongs]

Mousgrass

[mustache, literally “mouth grass”]

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“Dad Jokes” about ballet and perfume in French

Tonight on the way to the ballet my wife and I were riding in the car with one of her friends.  It came up that my sister-in-law’s roommate’s cat pissed in a cardboard box full of her purses.  Our friend made a joke about my sister-in-law wearing a new perfume that smelled like cat piss.  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chime in with a joke of my own and said that she was probably wearing “piss de chat” (it sounded like a French perfume name…).  No one laughed.

We kept driving.

I couldn’t let it pass.

I said, “No one laughed at my ballet joke.”

They did not know what I was talking about.

I said: “Pas de Chat is a ballet jump and it means Cat’s Step.  I switched the Pas with Piss to make it into a French name for a perfume that smelled like cat piss.”

No one laughed this time either.

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Cognitive Mindfulness #11

“No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.  Is translation meant for readers who do not want to understand the original?” – Walter Benjamin.

Any thoughts?

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Cognitive Mindfulness #10

This quote is about how to achieve a natural translation.

‘And again,’ went on Claudius, ‘have your French composed by a Frenchman. You gentlemen may pride yourselves on writing good French, grammatical French, but a Frenchman reading it would know it was not written by a Frenchman. I’ll go further than that, gentlemen, Give a Frenchman a passage in English and tell him to render it into French and a Frenchman will still be aware that all is not well when he reads it.  You must have your French composed ab initio by a Frenchmen, contenting yourselves with merely outlining what is to be said.

C.S. Forester ‘s Hornblower and the Crisis

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Cognitive Mindfulness #7

Portrait photograph of Jack London

Image via Wikipedia

Take this advice from Jack London:

“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped.  To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand.  This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes.  It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.” [21]

London, J. (1982). To build a fire and other stories, Bantam Books (reprinted from Novels and Stories by Jack London)

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